Branson: Virgin Galactic To Put People In Space in 'Weeks, Not Months'

Richard Branson said Monday his Virgin Galactic will begin space test flights in a matter of weeks. File

The man who used to be the world's most popular cross-disciplinary businessman and self-publicist until Elon Musk came along is preparing to fire himself into space to regain his self-love crown, as Richard Branson says his Virgin Galactic enterprise is mere weeks away from hitting space - and he's putting himself atop the list of passengers.

"We are more than tantalizingly close now, so we should be in space within weeks, not months", he told CNBC.

Since then, Virgin Galactic has had several successful test flights, with its space planes safely reaching Mach 2, which is about twice the speed of sound.

Japanese online retail tycoon Yusaku Maezawa has been unveiled as the first person to buy a ticket for Elon Musk's SpaceX mission to the moon.

While Sir Richard says that he will have humans in space next year, Mr Musk has set a target of 2030 to get people to Mars, with the first people there being tasked with beginning to build a new civilisation.

Space tourism has turned into a hot commodity in recent years. Its main focus is on private touristic space travel from a spaceport in New Mexico, but it is also laying the bureaucratic groundwork to launch both research and private missions from Italy.

Virgin Galactic aims to launch the first commercial passenger flight into space, and is in tough competition with USA space company Blue Origin.

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Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has said it aims for test flights by the end of 2018.

The entrepreneur added that he hoped to be onboard an early Virgin Galactic flight "in months not years", with passengers willing to part with $250,000 (£192,000) taking their seats "not too long after that".

Eventually, the company wants to fly space tourists to an altitude of 360,890 feet (110,000 metres) going beyond the 328,000 feet (100,000 metres) defined boundary of space.

Sir Richard conceded earlier this year that the number of spurious claims he has made about Virgin Galactic flight dates was "embarrassing".

Virgin Galactic now has about 800 passengers on its roster, all of whom have paid around $250,000 (£190,000) for a return trip to space.

The business mogul has a long history of underestimating the time it takes his firm to get test flights into the air, and the company has repeatedly missed his lofty targets.

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